"Our Struggles With Transparency”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – June 22, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 34: 8-20; Matthew 10:24-31


    One of the interesting things about the English language is that people are adding about 150 million new words each month.  While we find this figure staggering to imagine, it helps to grasp such a number by recognizing that most new words enter the dictionary from the fields of science, medicine and technology. 

    A few words come into being by ordinary people like us.  The word, selfie, for example, describes a picture we take of ourselves with our cell phones.  Sending a tweet is a message sent by a cell phone with a limit of 140 characters. The word, Bitcoin is an experimental form of digital currency that does not need the backing of a central bank.

    A word that has taken on a broader meaning in a number of English-speaking societies is transparency.  We hear this word used quite often to describe the complete disclosure of the smallest details on every level of governmental, business and personal transactions.   The claim of a lack of transparency is what caused the recent resignation of our former Premier.  

    This morning we are going to discuss transparency as it relates to our personal lives. Currently, many of the world’s leaders are struggling with where to draw the line between what information should be made public and what information is too sensitive to be shared with anyone. 

    We live in a society where some people cannot get enough information about what is going on in the lives of other people.  Entire magazines are devoted to uncovering and exposing explosive issues in the lives of the rich and famous.  We know we are growing older and have become more mature when we see these headlines and we ask ourselves, “Who are these people? Why is it that I don’t recognize any of them?”  However, if we ask our kids, all of them will know.

    There are also espionage agents that want to know everything that is going on inside of industrial research centers.  Governments want to know what international leaders are thinking so they eavesdrop on personal telephone conversations.  This is the kind of information that Edward Snowden took with him from the Central Intelligence Agency when he sought asylum in Russia. 

    The availability of information has suddenly burst on to the stage of humanity unlike anything we have ever known.  The tension is strong over how much information is too much. Last year, Conrad Farnsworth, a high school student, built a nuclear reactor in his parents’ garage.  Much of his information came from the Internet.

    There is no way anyone can be sheltered from the flow of information without the intervention by highly sophisticated equipment.  Likewise we cannot stop others from knowing about every purchase we make with a credit card.  Our phone lines can be tapped.  Our wireless phone messages can be intercepted. Our emails can be read.  Even a casual conversation can be captured word for word when there are no microphones to over hear what we say.

    Most of us have watched televised athletic events where the Goodyear blimp has provided glimpses of the stadium below.  A friend of mine sent to me an e-mail attachment that demonstrated the power of the new cameras that are being installed in many public places.

    These cameras can take movies of a stadium filled with people from the same height as the Goodyear blimp and can magnify each individual seated below in high resolution. Skilled persons could easily read the lips of people talking.  This camera is capable of such clarity that it can zoom in on the size of the engagement ring on the finger of a high profile personality.

    Such remarkable technology was developed so that if a terrorist event occurs officials could readily identify the culprits simply by reviewing the footage prior to the event.  Imagine what such cameras can do in the hands of people who want to peer into windows to read documents that are on a scientist’s desk!

     One of the reasons why we need to be so forgiving of each other is that the only thing that separates most of us from each other is that our thoughts, attitudes and emotions are not transparent.  A lot is going on inside of us that would embarrass us beyond belief if our colleagues, friends and family had access to our thoughts, feelings and desires.

    Today's Scripture lesson provides 21st century advice.  People that are growing and learning will obviously make mistakes and errors in their judgments.  All of us do this all the time.  Jesus was reassuring his listeners when he said,

Do not be afraid of people.  Whatever is now covered up will be uncovered and every secret will be made known.  Do not be afraid of those who can kill our bodies.  It is impossible for them to kill the spirit-being that occupies the vehicle in which we live.  The people who think and act in secret should become aware of God's power.  God is the one who determines the destiny of all of us. (Matthew 10:26f)

    These are words that let us know that there are no secrets.   For God, everything about us is transparent.  It is curious when we watch the footage of the insurgents that are overtaking one city after another in Iraq, that they cover their faces.  This is the same practice of the Russian sympathizers in eastern Ukraine.  These men know exactly what they are doing and do not want anyone to recognize them. 

    One would think that if people are proud of what they were doing, they would want to show the world who they are.   Contributors to the world want to be published.  They want to appear on talk shows and be interviewed by reporters.  They want people to know who they are.  They crave transparency for their new book, their cause, their thoughts and attitudes.

    There are a lot of people in our world that will never be caught for the crimes they have committed.  They have gotten away with stealing millions of dollars from innocent people.  It is estimated that cyber-crime is costing the world 445 billion dollars a year, or almost one percent of the total income of the world’s people.   Criminals believe that they are safe. Even though their secret desires and exploits are totally transparent to God, many of them do not have God in their consciousness.  They imagine that God is just for religious people. 

    Regardless of what people believe, brain research over the last 20 years has demonstrated that every thought, every secret desire and every deed has been carefully preserved inside of us.   Marilu Henner is one of the few people on earth that has perfect recall of everything she has ever experienced.  There is a television program called Unforgettable that features a woman that has this rare ability called autobiographical memory.  Some of us would say, “She has a photographic memory.” 

     Just because we cannot recall everything that we have experienced does not mean that these events and experiences are no longer a part of our collected memories. Not only does God know everything about us, so do we.  God does not need to be our judge and jury as many religious people believe.  We are the ones who have the data on the quality of our thoughts, desires and choices.  When our attitudes and behavior teach the world how to sing, all is well.  

    What Jesus was telling his listeners goes to the core of each of us.  Life is like a gigantic parenthesis in time.  Each of us enters life with nothing when our parenthesis opens.  As hard as we try to hold on to our accomplishments, our assets and all the things that we have accumulated, we leave with nothing when our parenthesis closes.  

    The Scriptures tell us that all of us have fallen short by living lives that have missed the mark.  We have been told that perfection is something we will never grasp.  Preachers have told us how wonderful God is because God is merciful and forgiving.  What is interesting is that our experience of life is not about what God can do.  The gift of life is about our life-experiences, our choices, our autobiography and our very personal movie.  Life is the perfect testimony of who we have become with the time we have.    

     Try to imagine that there was a time when God explained to the angels what life will be like for them if they choose to enter the physical forms that all of us have.  God probably said something like this:

So, you angels want to create just as I do.  I will give you that opportunity.  You will go to sleep and wake up in a physical form that may last anywhere from less than one hour to over one hundred years.  You will have no knowledge of who you are or where you come from.  As long as your body survives, you will grow up in a world filled with remarkable mysteries to explore.  You will have the same ability to create as I have. Your creations will come from what you desire.  Use this ability well and you will discover that your potential will expand.  Use it to serve only yourself, and you will discover that most of what you create you will leave behind when you return. You will have the unique experience of believing that your pleasures and sorrows are very real.  While you will not remember this during your experience, I would never allow you to enter a world where you were ever in any danger.  Enjoy your adventure.

    Recognizing that total transparency is a wonderful gift, Jesus said, “Go into the world and help others to discover their true identity.  As they serve one another, they will become one with us.”  (Mark 9:40f)  

    All of us need to remember that life is a marvelous process of moving from one level of awareness to the next while experiencing our journey.  The beautiful, fragrant flowers that we become eventually give way as our fruit begins to form.  Life is never about what we look like; life is about what we produce.  We are always transparent to God and to ourselves.  When we love ourselves in the same manner that we love others, the world around us will always sing.